Thoughts on Tolerance 3: Geekery

Friday, 13th February 2009 at 9:00 UTC 5 comments

So to conclude this week-long run on Tolerance, I want to look at something perhaps a little more light hearted. I am, at heart, something of an omnigeek, which might explain the mix of topics covered on this blog. Here’s some thoughts on Geeks, Tolerance and protecting Identities from outside persecution.

There is, depending on who you ask, a Geek Code of Conduct of sorts, an unwritten constitution that is enforced to one degree or another, but usually most fervently within the Science Fiction and Fantasy sections of the Geek world. It contains the rules that require anything with a global take up to either be sub-divided (e.g. Doctor Who, whereby “real geeks” give equal weight if not more so to the “Classic Doctors”), or somehow cursed.

Most annoyingly, it requires that absolutely no public relations work ever take place between a community of geeks and the rest of the world. This requires that, for instance, posters for groups that run Role Play Games of one sort or another do as little as possible to explain Role Play Games. Obviously, if one would wish to play a Role Play Game, one must already understand such things, or know “the right kind of people”.

This happens for several reasons. The most quoted, which is actually based on conjecture and is largely a cop out, is that people simply won’t understand. This argument falls down on two accounts: firstly, it assumes that if one might be interested, one already knows what’s going on, and secondly, it mistakes understanding for appreciating. Its nice when people appreciate, but its rather more critical that people understand.

Someone who wants to know about Role Play Games might never have heard of Dungeons and Dragons, might not know what RPG stands for, and may never have seen a 20-sided dice. They might be curious from a “wanting to take part” point of view (in which case, more fool anyone who doesn’t stop and explain) or they might be purely curious.

For some reason, it’s a crime to explain to the purely curious passer-by what is going on. Part of this comes down to the whole “what if it becomes mainstream?” argument, which is just stupid, part comes down to the “what if they laugh?” argument, which is something every community has to get over eventually, and part is the failure to get the need for understanding.

I suppose in a sense, most political and religious groups go to huge extents trying to impart anything from rote-answers to powers of reasoning directed in this way; Christians call it apologetics, as do others, and perhaps that’s what’s needed. I almost wonder whether there’s a worry one might stop and think “Why DO I enjoy this?” and discover one doesn’t, which is really quite stupid when you think about it, because clearly you enjoy it, or you’d have gone off whatever ‘it’ might be a long time ago.

When I started doing Activism about 6 years ago, there were many in the Direct Action line of things that had a thousand reasons not to engage the mainstream media. The fact is, the media take notice, and if no explanation is given, they make their own minds up. By the time Dissent came around in 2005, the “No entry to the press” line was etched on everyone’s hearts and minds, and the press had a field day. “Weirdos in a field” makes a brilliant story.

So what happens when the BBC turns up to find out what the hell is going on in a field full of Live Action Role-Players (LARPers)? “I’m sorry, we’re busy, please go away” comes to equal “New weirdos in a field!”. Sadly, the press will always go for the exact examples you least want to show.

If players regularly berate the Lorian Trust and its annual “The Gathering” Live Action Role-Play (LARP) event, then it is something of a pity that the only LARP event covered by BBC News last year was that exact event. Not Maelstrom, with its much higher costume standards, nor Curious Pastimes, with its more refined battles. Even the BBC could spot that the story has to be somewhat contrived if organisers wish to guarantee a “final battle” each August bank holiday.

Under the rising tide of intolerance to those who pass their time in ways the police, press and those in power deem suitable, a Geek community that simply tries to hide away will not survive. The media, understandably, do love to unearth bizarre stories, and will always pick the worst examples to run with.

The public, knowing little better, assume this applies to the whole community. With powers such as ASBO’s that can be applied to people even if they hold their activities entirely on their own land or in their own homes we must assume that eventually, unless there is a radical about-turn in current trends, police will begin intervening in such events. Where police might have shown little interest in “harmless play”, the new “Anti-Social Behaviour Doctrine” now states that anything “unusual” must be treated as criminal in order to keep society functioning.

Sadly, when I was first getting involved in Geek Games, I came upon numerous claims of sexual abuse hanging over what turned out to be entirely innocent events. The fact I have to explain Magic the Gathering in terms of Pokemon, and then try and deal with the fact that people only remember the beatings and thefts from the Pokemon era makes for an uphill struggle. All these assumptions need to be over-come.

Already, the Railfan community of America is being faced with almost unbearable strain from police crack downs, though mostly relating to terrorism charges. Owning LARP “weapons” (essentially expensive foam swords and the like) could become rather difficult, as could holding events, and the community would have no recourse to action, simply because it provides the society at large with no positive reference points for understanding its activities.

Good media strategy quite hard to write, especially when you don’t want to upset your own community, and when people will resent being asked to pose every few minutes by passing camera crews. Finding solutions, issuing clear Press Releases, etc. acts not only to promote the concept as a great way to spend an afternoon/evening/weekend, but also to explain just exactly what LARP entails.

I realise I’ve picked on LARP as an example. Indeed, there’s plenty that could be written about the way Board Gamers, Trading Card Gamers, etc. fail to promote any level of understanding of their pursuits, and how all these communities use this to reinforce an insular form of community. I could write at length of the importance of promoting self-understanding within, and general understanding outside of, a community can lead to greater tolerance. Its peculiar how awareness is just so very low.


Entry filed under: Community, Culture, Free Space, Freedom, Geekery.

Thoughts on Tolerance 2.5: Censored for trying to cope Shouldn’t we be stopping Nukes?

5 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Lois  |  Friday, 13th February 2009 at 15:51 UTC

    Interesting. From the point of view of someone outside this area of geekery who nevertheless has several friends within it, I’d agree that it’s often not explained or understood well.

    From the point of view of my own area of geekery, (or one of them), G&S (Gilbert & Sullivan musicals), I’d say that explaining what it is that makes them so fun and worth spending time and money on is tricky. Especially when certain friends seem to think it’s a load of rubbish and express their views in no uncertain terms. This makes it hard when you’re actually trying to market events to the public!

    I guess minority interest groups will always struggle to make people understand them. That is no excuse for not tolerating them, thought. Perhaps they should band together to demand “Equal rights for Geeks!”

  • 2. Graham Martin  |  Saturday, 14th February 2009 at 15:11 UTC

    Interestingly, I was once told about a piece of proposed legislation known as the “Single Anti-Discrimination Bill” which would cover many areas of Discrimination with equal rights shared by Blacks and Gays for instance. My response, partly in light of the then-recent “Goth Murder” case, was to ask if Goths would be covered. Perhaps Geeks should unite for inclusion in that “Single” bill if it ever comes about.

  • 3. Greg  |  Saturday, 14th February 2009 at 23:32 UTC

    I’m not sure, but I may just have seen something I thought I’d never see. I may just have seen Graham defending exclusivity and discrimination on his blog. Tell me, precisely what were you saying about geeks not letting other people into their groups?

  • 4. Graham Martin  |  Sunday, 15th February 2009 at 10:51 UTC

    I was trying to say it was a really bad idea to hold such a siege-mentality, as it only makes the situation worse. I wasn’t defending it, and granted, I wasn’t really attacking it per se, I was trying to get over that its stupid to complain about your group falling under attack and then not try and recruit to fill out your numbers.

  • 5. Ruth  |  Saturday, 21st February 2009 at 13:48 UTC

    The thing is, there’s always going to be groups who *want* to remain underground and misunderstood: indeed, that’s kind of the point. There’s an element of elitism there maybe, and sometimes people are perfectly aware of that and proud of it. I suspect that’s the case with some LARPers, although I find most are very happy to get others involved.

    The way I immediately relate to this is through the metal community, where “true metal” is often prized above the sell-out music of the masses. Depending on where you stand, sell-outs might be massive commerical groups such as Linkin Park, those such as Trivium who have popularised more extreme music, or bands like Arch Enemy who play death metal – which is pretty inaccessible! – but do so in a catchy way that’s landed them the odd fan with short hair and some articles in magazines like Metal Hammer and (god forbid) Kerrang.

    Another interesting aspect of this is found in the logos of many extreme (black metal and the occasionally death metal, grindcore or doom) bands. The logos are messy and difficult or even impossible to read. Sometimes, this can be deliberate: the bands don’t *want* a lot of fans. They want to appeal to a small, select audience, and however silly this might seem maybe they should be given space to do so. They can be elitist, and I’ll keep listening to System of a Down.


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